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The Leader in Small Groups on the Road Less Traveled Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!

2016 Heart of India

17 Days from only $4695 including international airfare

Delhi • Jaipur • Ranthambore • Agra • Khajuraho • Varanasi

Courtesy of Cynthia Younker
Earth Diaries - Indian Dance

Enjoy the beautifully orchestrated dance and music performances of itinerant Rajasthani families.

Trip Itinerary

Route your adventure from India’s bustling capital of Delhi to the holy city of Varanasi.

Courtesy David Conover
India’s Festival of Lights

See how Indian families prepare for and celebrate Diwali—the “Festival of Lights.”

Trip Extension: Kathmandu

Experience Kathmandu, Nepal’s colorful capital, on our optional trip extension.

Trip Extension: Bhutan

See a local archery match and climb to Tiger’s Nest on our optional Bhutan trip extension.

FROM
$4695
17 DAYS
$277/DAY
including international airfare
16 DAYS FROM $3395 Land Adventure Only
Extend Your Trip
 

CRITICAL AIR INFORMATION
The air routing for this trip is very demanding. Learn More »

 
 

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Itinerary Overview

If you’re looking for adventure, explore India, where every moment brings new stimulation. The scent of roasted cumin seeds floating through a Delhi bazaar ... a young girl’s bracelets jangling on her arm as she prepares for a festival ... Hindu pilgrims descending ghats into the holy Ganges. From the excitement of the “Golden Triangle” cities of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur to the tranquility of the unexpected retreats that lie between them, we explore it all on this tour of India. Expert Trip Leaders will bring you behind the scenes and off the beaten path with their intimate understanding of India, past and present.

Day-to-Day Itinerary

  • 8 nights from only $2695

    Few travelers have ever heard of Bhutan—much less passed through its majestic (but remote) Himalayan borders. The Buddhist kingdom cautiously controls tourism to preserve its culture and protect its legacy as one of the world’s ten biodiversity hotspots. Here is a unique opportunity to experience a deeply spiritual world of elaborate temple-fortresses, ancient customs, and mind-boggling scenery—at a price as rare as Bhutan itself.

    View Extension Itinerary
Delhi Varanasi Expand All
  • You depart today on your overnight flight from the U.S. to Delhi, India.

  • Spice up your life in Delhi

    Learn how the variety of spices in Delhi provides the city with some of the world’s most unique cuisine.

    You'll arrive in Delhi today, where your Trip Leader will meet you at the airport and escort you to your hotel. Here we'll be joined by travelers who took our optional Bhutan: The Hidden Kingdom pre-trip extension.

  • Explore Delhi on a rickshaw ride

    After breakfast, gather with your fellow travelers for a briefing by your Trip Leader.

    We start our discoveries this afternoon in Delhi by visiting Old Delhi. Even when Bombay and Madras were mere trading posts and Calcutta a village of mud huts, Delhi had been the seat of an empire for 500 years. Through the centuries, eight cities have been built on this site by Hindu, Mughal, and British rulers—with each adding their own flavor.

    In the old part of Delhi, we visit Raj Ghat, a beautifully serene monument. This is where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated, and we will see an impressive shrine to India's best-known statesman. Next, after visiting the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, we take a short ride by rickshaw through the crowded lanes of the Chandni Chowk bazaar. Tonight, enjoy a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

  • After breakfast, we head out to see the highlights of New Delhi.

    The British laid out the broad, tree-lined avenues and neat street grid of New Delhi (in contrast to the narrow alleyways of the old part of the city). We'll begin our explorations by visiting Qutab Minar, a spectacular example of Indo-Islamic architecture topped by a 234-foot-high tower. Begun in the twelfth century, this is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the symbol of New Delhi.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, we'll continue our tour of the former "Imperial City" which continues to serve as the center of government for the world's largest democracy. We'll see the buildings of India's Parliament and (from the outside) the residence of India's president, a palatial building called Rashtrapati Bhavan. Nearby we see the India Gate, where a popular park surrounds a memorial to Indian soldiers who served Great Britain in World War I and the 19th-century war in Afghanistan.

    You'll have the latter part of the afternoon at leisure. This evening, enjoy dinner on your own.

    Trip Experience Discover the natural beauty of India as you search for tigers in Ranthambore National Park.
  • After breakfast, we'll fly to Jaipur, called the “Pink City” for the rosy hue of its sandstone buildings. Upon arrival, we'll eat lunch at a local restaurant before checking into our hotel and enjoying a walking tour of Jaipur's walled Old City. Tonight we'll gather for dinner at a local restaurant.

  • Explore the Palace Museum and other sites of Jaipur

    An optional hot air balloon ride may be offered this morning (weather permitting). Rise early to enjoy a bird's-eye view of Jaipur and its surroundings. Float high above the fort, Jai Mahal Lake, or the countryside, going where the wind takes you. Don't be surprised if you attract attention from the people below along the way! 

    This morning, we enjoy a sightseeing tour of Jaipur.

    Next we see the Jantar Mantar, a remarkable astronomical and astrological observatory built in the 18th century. The giant sundials here are still accurate to two-tenths of a second. Then we go on to the City Palace Museum, filled with an array of textiles, arms, carpets, paintings, and manuscripts. You'll complete your tour with an optional visit to a fabric block-printing center to learn more about the textiles that are so representative of this area. After lunch at a local restaurant, your afternoon is free.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

  • Explore 16th century Amber Fort in India

    We begin today's discoveries with a view of the exterior of Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds). This is actually not a palace, but rather a façade of 956 delicate, honeycombed sandstone windows used by the ladies of the palace to watch the outside world without being seen.

    Next, we'll explore Jaipur's Amber (pronounced "am-er," with a silent "b") Fort-Palace. The Fort is a stunning and well-preserved 16th-century structure, built on four levels.

    Among its many splendors is the Sheesh Mahal, a small room whose ceiling, covered with tiny mirrors, looks like a sky filled with brilliant stars. Here, in Rajput times, a dancing girl held candles during a dance of love for her Maharaja. We make our way back down the hill and return to Jaipur.

    After lunch on your own at the hotel, your afternoon is free. Then we are the guests of an Indian family for a Home-Hosted Dinner.

  • View India's wildlife while on safari in Ranthambore National Park

    After breakfast, we leave Jaipur and drive through the rural countryside and into the low Vindhya mountain range. The drive is about five hours in length along bumpy roads.

    Our destination is Ranthambore National Park. Located near the town of Sawai Madhopur, the park is one of the eleven sites chosen for Project Tiger, India's national tiger conservation program, the largest such effort in the world. The park is comprised of more than a hundred square miles of deciduous forest and several large lakes, and until 1970 it was a hunting preserve of the Maharajas. We'll arrive at the hotel in time for lunch. Please note: As Ranthambore National Park is closed in August and September, we will visit the Sawai Mansingh Animal Sanctuary instead during those months.

    In the afternoon, you can join an optional tour to the Ranthambore Fort, a spectacular fortress built more than 1,000 years ago on a rocky outcrop with stunning views. Today it sits in the middle of the Ranthambore sanctuary. You'll ride in an open four-wheel drive vehicle (known locally as a canter), and then hike to the fort, a huge structure with a fascinating history and fine craftsmanship in its interiors.

    Dinner is included at our hotel this evening, along with a presentation on the local wildlife we'll see tomorrow.

  • In the early morning, when nocturnal animals may still be active, we head out for game-viewing before breakfast. Once again, our mode of transportation is a canter, a safari truck. We may see all the great Indian species: sambar, nilgai, the shy chinkara and chital, and the always cunning Langur monkey.

    We return to our hotel for breakfast and the rest of the morning at leisure. Following an included lunch in the hotel, we regroup for a second safari expedition. Though it is rare, we may see the Royal Bengal tiger, usually sleeping by day in the tall grass. A recent census showed 26 tigers in the reserve. We also see lakes that hold crocodiles, and a wide variety of water birds in season. More than 450 bird species frequent this area, from crested serpent eagles to painted storks.

    Dinner is included at our hotel this evening.

  • A Day in the Life

    Watch O.A.T. travelers experience the unique culture of a Ranthambore community.

    After breakfast, we'll stroll into a local village to visit with the students at a primary school (when in session) that O.A.T. proudly supports through donations from Grand Circle Foundation.

    Then we'll continue our A Day in the Life of this village, meeting local people and seeing their houses and way of life. We'll be the guests of one family for a Home-Hosted Visit. Next we visit a cooperative where women are trained to make handcrafts. We'll learn about this enterprise from one of the women involved, with the opportunity to purchase its products.

    After lunch at the cooperative, we begin our drive (totaling approximately four hours on a bumpy road) to our village camp retreat. You'll check in upon arrival.

    Our campsite is nestled among small plots of land used by local farmers to grow a rich diversity of crops. Often, villagers will stop by to pay us a visit, or farmers will take a break from their work to share a laugh. Especially enchanting are the mustard blooms, which, in season, resemble thousands of buttercups waving in the breeze.

    Join your travel companions this evening in the relaxed environment of the campsite to enjoy an authentic Indian dinner. Dinner is prepared especially for you by our camp cook, who uses the freshest locally grown organic ingredients.

    After dinner we'll relax around the campfire and enjoy being entertained by local dancers who proudly perform cultural Indian dances for us.

  • View the Taj Mahal on a moonlight garden tour

    Today, we'll visit Abhaneri to view an ancient baolis, essentially a step-well or waterway built to provide a constant water supply to local inhabitants.

    Then, we'll depart for Agra, driving through the vast rural countryside. We'll break up the long journey by stopping for lunch in Bharatpur. As we drive, our Trip Leader entertains us with a discussion of the history of the Mughals.

    When we arrive in Agra in the late afternoon, we'll check into our hotel and enjoy time at leisure. Dinner tonight is on your own.

  • Today we rise early to view a sight unlike any other in the entire world: early morning at the Taj Mahal. Please note: If this day falls on a Friday, we visit the Taj Mahal on the evening of Day 11 instead.

    This grand edifice, built by Shah Jahan from 1631 to 1653 to enshrine the remains of his Queen Mumtaz Mahal, took 20,000 workers to build. We walk into the inner chambers of this renowned "Monument to Love," and seek out several vantage points to see the magnificent play of light. The semi-translucent white marble is inlaid with thousands of semi-precious stones in beautiful patterns and the building has four identical facades, a perfect exercise in symmetry. It's truly a wonder of the world!

    Later in the morning we visit the sprawling Agra Fort on the bank of the Yamuna River. This immense fort and palace were the seat of power for four generations of Mughal emperors; they ruled all of northern India from the early 16th century until the consolidation by British colonial rule in the early 1800s. Agra Fort's architecture is an almost perfect fusion between military might and lavish beauty.

    We return to our hotel to enjoy the afternoon at leisure, then gather for an included dinner this evening.

  • To enjoy and make the most of this very long, overland, travel day, you'll need to approach it with curiosity, an adventurous spirit, and a healthy sense of humor.

    We begin our journey early this morning, as we board a train for an approximately two-hour ride to Jhansi, a center of Bundela civilization. Upon arriving at the railway station in Jhansi, we will transfer to our coach and continue overland for a half-hour drive to Orcha. After lunch we continue overland via coach on the long (four-and-a-half-hour drive) and bumpy road to Khajuraho.

    Although remote and very quiet today, in the tenth century Khajuraho was the center of the thriving civilization of the Chandelas. The magnificent group of temples (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) was built between the ninth and tenth centuries by the Chandela Dynasty, which dominated Central India at the time.

    We'll check in, and enjoy dinner at our hotel in the evening.

  • India: Varanasi and Bangalore

    Follow travelers Pat and Regina to Varanasi and Bangalore—two of India’s most fascinating cities.

    After breakfast at our hotel, we visit the temple complex that the Chandelas constructed. The erotic stone carvings here have come to symbolize the important role of love and prana energy in Hindu thought. British archaeologists excavated these intricate stone carvings during colonial times, when they scandalized post-Victorian English sensibilities.

    We have time for lunch before transferring to the airport for our 40-minute flight to Varanasi, the holiest of Hindu cities. Known as Benares during British times, Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world, with a written history dating back more than 4,000 years. It has an intense, almost palpable atmosphere of spiritual devotion, a feeling of an unending religious festival. Hundreds of temples propitiate the thousands of deities in the Hindu pantheon. Pilgrims from every part of this vast nation crowd the narrow streets and the riverside ghats.

    As the day comes to a close, we'll travel to the bathing ghats located alongside the sacred River Ganges. People flock in large numbers every day to bathe and worship in the temples built beside the riverbank. Feel the timelessness of Varanasi as the sun sets and as the temple priests perform aarti, the sacred light ceremony, on the banks of Mother Ganga. The aarti performance is best viewed while having a boat ride on the river. We can photograph riverside temples and bathing ghats; however, photography of the cremation ghats is not permitted.

    After the puja ceremony is completed, dinner will be on your own this evening.

  • See temples at sunrise on a Ganges River boat cruise

    At sunrise, when the temples are bathed in soft light, we board our small boat for a cruise on the Ganges. From our boat we are witness to the everyday life in the holiest of cities, as the people arrive at the ghats at dawn to take a ritual dip, perform yoga asanas, wash clothes and offer flowers and incense to the river. We'll see devotees performing their daily religious rites. At stone steps on the river's edge, we join our hosts in a pilgrimage: for them, the heart of their faith, for us, a superlative cultural experience. We then continue with a walk through Varanasi's narrow lanes before returning to our hotel for breakfast.

    After breakfast, we drive to the nearby ancient Buddhist learning center of Sarnath. Here, Gautama Buddha preached his first sermon to his disciples, as portrayed in Bernardo Bertolucci's film Little Buddha. We then visit the Sarnath Museum, (except on Fridays, when the museum is closed) which houses some of the great treasures of Indian Buddhist art, including Ashoka's Lion Capital—the National Emblem of India—and the beautiful Teaching Buddha, among the most beautiful sculptures in the world. We can explore and photograph excavated Buddhist stupas and pillars unearthed during the British archaeological explorations in 1836. We also have the opportunity to visit a silk-weaving workshop.

    This evening, enjoy a Farewell Dinner with your traveling companions.

  • This morning we have the chance to begin the day with a relaxing yoga and meditation class before breakfast at our hotel. Learn basic yoga exercises and breathing techniques from a local expert.

    After lunch on your own, you will be transferred to the airport to board a flight to Delhi, where you'll either transfer to the airport for your return flight to the U.S. or stay overnight in a hotel. Or, if you're continuing on the post-trip extension to Kathmandu, Nepal, you will fly to Kathmandu instead.

    Enjoy an included dinner at your hotel this evening.

    Please note: All travelers will have the use of a hotel room until departure.

  • If you're continuing on a post-trip extension to The South of India: Kerala & Cochin, board your flight this morning. Otherwise, transfer to the airport very early this morning for your return flight to the U.S.

     

  • POST-TRIP EXTENSION:
    Kathmandu, Nepal

    5 nights from only $1395

    Experience the diversity and the magic of Nepal amid an unforgettable world of profound and ageless beauty. At the ancient crossroads of Asia, an enchanting kingdom gilded in Hindu and Buddhist culture nestles beneath the rugged peaks of eight of the world’s ten highest mountains. In Kathmandu, the capital, pilgrims make their way to local shrines as merchants sell their brightly colored and fragrant wares. Artisans gifted in their ancient techniques display woven fabrics and ceramic bowls made for temple offerings. In Bhaktapur, prayer flags adorn lively temples that reveal colorful ancient scrolls and exquisite carvings, offering intimate views of Nepali life. And mighty Everest climbs ever higher in the background, stretching eternally toward heaven through a white halo of clouds.

    View Extension Itinerary
  • POST-TRIP EXTENSION:
    The South of India: Kerala & Cochin

    5 nights from only $1595

    Some 1,300 miles south of Delhi lies a paradise of sandalwood-scented beaches, stunning southern Indian architecture, and multicultural European ports. Add to that an enviable reputation as India's most advanced, peaceful, literate, and ecologically minded state. Discover the best of it by land, and by cruising its idyllic backwaters aboard a traditional houseboat.

    View Extension Itinerary
  • 8 nights from only $2695

    Few travelers have ever heard of Bhutan—much less passed through its majestic (but remote) Himalayan borders. The Buddhist kingdom cautiously controls tourism to preserve its culture and protect its legacy as one of the world’s ten biodiversity hotspots. Here is a unique opportunity to experience a deeply spiritual world of elaborate temple-fortresses, ancient customs, and mind-boggling scenery—at a price as rare as Bhutan itself.

    View Extension Itinerary
Delhi Varanasi Expand All
  • You depart today on your overnight flight from the U.S. to Delhi, India.

  • Explore the many sites of Delhi

    You'll arrive in Delhi today, where your Trip Leader will meet you at the airport and escort you to your hotel as you begin to explore India.

  • Explore Delhi on a rickshaw ride

    After breakfast, gather with your fellow travelers for a briefing by your Trip Leader.

    We start our discoveries this afternoon in Delhi by visiting Old Delhi. Even when Bombay and Madras were mere trading posts and Calcutta a village of mud huts, Delhi had been the seat of an empire for 500 years. Through the centuries, eight cities have been built on this site, by Hindu, Mughal and British rulers—with each adding their own flavor.

    In the old part of Delhi, we visit Raj Ghat, a beautifully serene monument. This is where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated, and we will see an impressive shrine to India's best-known statesman. Next, after visiting the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, we take a short ride by rickshaw through the crowded lanes of the Chandni Chowk bazaar. Tonight, enjoy a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

  • Explore Delhi on a rickshaw ride

    After breakfast, we head out to see the highlights of New Delhi as we continue to explore India.

    The British laid out the broad, tree-lined avenues and neat street grid of New Delhi (in contrast to the narrow alleyways of the old part of the city). We'll begin our explorations by visiting Qutab Minar, a spectacular example of Indo-Islamic architecture topped by a 234-foot-high tower. Begun in the twelfth century, this is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and the symbol of New Delhi.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, we'll continue our tour of the former "Imperial City" which continues to serve as the center of government for the world's largest democracy. We'll see the buildings of India's Parliament and (from the outside) the residence of India's President, a palatial building called Rashtrapati Bhavan. Nearby we see the India Gate, where a popular park surrounds a memorial to Indian soldiers who served Great Britain in World War I and the 19th-century war in Afghanistan.

    You'll have the latter part of the afternoon at leisure. This evening, dinner is on your own.

  • After breakfast, we'll fly to Jaipur, called the “Pink City” for the rosy hue of its sandstone buildings. Upon arrival, we'll eat lunch at a local restaurant before checking into our hotel and enjoying a walking tour of Jaipur's walled Old City. Tonight we'll gather for dinner at a local restaurant.

  • Explore 16th century Amber Fort in India

    An optional hot air balloon ride may be offered this morning (weather permitting). Rise early to enjoy a bird's-eye view of Jaipur and its surroundings. Float high above the fort, Jai Mahal Lake, or the countryside, going where the wind takes you. Don't be surprised if you attract attention from the people below along the way! 

    This morning, we'll begin our discoveries with a view of the exterior of Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds). This is actually not a palace, but rather a façade of 956 delicate, honeycombed sandstone windows used by the ladies of the palace to watch the outside world without being seen.

    Next, we'll explore Jaipur's Amber (pronounced "am-er," with a silent "b") Fort-Palace. The Fort is a stunning and well-preserved 16th-century structure, built on four levels. Among its many splendors is the Sheesh Mahal, a small room whose ceiling, covered with tiny mirrors, looks like a sky filled with brilliant stars. Here, in Rajput times, a dancing girl held candles during a dance of love for her Maharaja. We make our way back down the hill and return to Jaipur.

    After lunch on your own, your afternoon is free. Then we are the guests of an Indian family for a Home-Hosted Dinner.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    After breakfast, we proceed to Nagaur, about a six-hour drive over bumpy roads in the desert.

    Lunch is at our camp as we arrive in Nagaur. This afternoon we'll visit the Mela Ground, located at the heart of this fascinating fair. Here we will witness many of the fair's traders along with their animals. Entertainment during this bustling festival includes various sports. The scheduling of these events is unpredictable, and much of the excitement and fun of our two days here will be taking advantage of opportunities as we come across them.

    We have dinner at our camp this evening. First, though, we'll enjoy the excitement and gaiety of Rajasthani folk dancing and singing.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:
    View India's wildlife while on safari in Ranthambore National Park

    After breakfast in camp today, we take in more of the fair, which is a predominantly rural gathering, as we mingle with local people and share in their festive spirit.

    The fair includes a large marketplace, where you will find such items as colorful costumes, ornaments, and embroidered coverings. Nagaur is also famous for its locally grown red chili peppers, which are sold here at the fair. If you're feeling brave, perhaps you'll have a taste.

    We return to our camp for lunch. After time to relax, we return to explore the fair area.

    Before dinner at camp this evening, we'll enjoy another show of traditional dancing.

  • After breakfast we drive to Jaipur and check into our hotel. We'll have time for lunch before heading out for an included sightseeing tour of the “Pink City,” so named for the rosy hue of its sandstone buildings.

    First, we head to the Jantar Mantar, a remarkable astronomical and astrological observatory built in the 18th century. The giant sundials here are still accurate to two-tenths of a second! Then we go on to the City Palace Museum, filled with an array of textiles, arms, carpets, paintings and manuscripts. You'll complete your tour with a visit to a fabric block-printing center to learn more about the textiles that are so representative of this area.

    We have dinner at a local restaurant this evening.

  • After breakfast, we leave Jaipur and drive through the rural countryside and into the low Vindhya mountain range. The drive is about five hours in length along bumpy roads.

    Our destination is Ranthambore National Park. Located near the town of Sawai Madhopur, the park is one of the eleven sites chosen for Project Tiger, India's national tiger conservation program, the largest such effort in the world. The park comprises more than a hundred square miles of deciduous forest and several large lakes, and until 1970 it was a hunting preserve of the Maharajas. We'll arrive at the hotel in time for lunch. Please note: As Ranthambore National Park is closed in August and September, we will visit the Sawai Mansingh Animal Sanctuary instead during those months.

    In the afternoon, you can join an optional tour to the Ranthambore Fort, a spectacular fortress built more than 1,000 years ago on a rocky outcrop with stunning views. Today it sits in the middle of the Ranthambore sanctuary. You'll ride in an open 4x4 vehicle (known locally as a canter), and then hike to the fort, a huge structure with a fascinating history and fine craftsmanship in its interiors.

    Dinner is included at our hotel this evening, along with a presentation on the local wildlife we'll see tomorrow.

  • In the early morning, when nocturnal animals may still be active, we head out for game-viewing before breakfast. Once again, our mode of transportation is a canter, a safari truck. We may see all the great Indian species: sambar, nilgai, the shy chinkara and chital, and the always cunning Langur monkey.

    We return to our hotel for breakfast and the rest of the morning at leisure. Following an included lunch in the hotel, we regroup for a second safari expedition. Though it is rare, we may see the Royal Bengal tiger, usually sleeping by day in the tall grass. A recent census showed 26 tigers in the reserve. We also see lakes that hold crocodiles, and a wide variety of water birds in season. More than 450 bird species frequent this area, from crested serpent eagles to painted storks.

    Dinner is included at our hotel this evening.

  • A Day in the Life

    Watch O.A.T. travelers experience the unique culture of a Ranthambore community.

    After breakfast, we'll stroll into a local village to visit with the students at a primary school (when in session) that O.A.T. proudly supports through donations from Grand Circle Foundation.

    We'll continue our exploration of the village, meeting local people and seeing their houses and way of life. We'll be the guests of one family for a Home-Hosted Visit. Then we visit a cooperative where women are trained to make handcrafts and we'll learn about this enterprise from one of the women involved, with the opportunity to purchase its products.

    After lunch at the cooperative, we'll drive through the rural countryside to Bharatpur. The drive is about 8-9 hours in length along bumpy roads, but we'll break it up with a stop along the way.

    Upon arrival in Bharatpur, we'll check into our hotel, where we'll dine together.

  • This morning, we experience the vast rural countryside of India as we ride toward Agra. En route, our Trip Leader entertains us with a discussion of the history of the Mughals, the dynasty that built the Taj Mahal. We arrive in Agra in time for lunch at our hotel.

    Our afternoon is at leisure to explore. Perhaps you'll discover Agra's stone carvings, which resemble the inlay work on the Taj itself. Or perhaps you'll visit one of the city's parks or temples; ask your Trip Leader for suggestions.

    Dinner will be on your own this evening.

  • Today we rise early to view a sight unlike any other in the entire world: early morning at the Taj Mahal. Please note: If this day falls on a Friday, we visit the Taj Mahal on the evening of Day 13 instead.

    This grand edifice, built by Shah Jahan from 1631 to 1653 to enshrine the remains of his Queen Mumtaz Mahal, took 20,000 workers to build. We walk into the inner chambers of this renowned “Monument to Love,” and seek out several vantage points to see the magnificent play of light. The semi-translucent white marble is inlaid with thousands of semi-precious stones in beautiful patterns and the building has four identical facades, a perfect exercise in symmetry. It’s truly a wonder of the world!

    Later in the morning, we visit the sprawling Agra Fort on the bank of the Yamuna River. This immense fort and palace were the seat of power for four generations of Mughal emperors; they ruled all of northern India from the early 16th century until the consolidation by British colonial rule in the early 1800s. Agra Fort’s architecture is an almost perfect fusion between military might and lavish beauty.

    We return to our hotel to enjoy the afternoon at leisure, then gather for an included dinner this evening.

  • To enjoy and make the most of this very long, overland, travel day, you'll need to approach it with curiosity, an adventurous spirit, and a healthy sense of humor.

    We begin our journey early this morning, as we board a train for an approximately two-hour ride to Jhansi, a center of Bundela civilization. Upon arriving at the railway station in Jhansi, we will transfer to our coach and continue overland for a half-hour drive to Orcha. After lunch we continue overland via coach on the long (four-and-a-half-hour drive) and bumpy road to Khajuraho.

    Although remote and very quiet today, in the tenth century Khajuraho was the center of the thriving civilization of the Chandelas. The magnificent group of temples (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) was built between the ninth and tenth centuries by the Chandela Dynasty, which dominated Central India at the time. We'll check in, and enjoy dinner at our hotel in the evening.

  • After breakfast at our hotel, we visit the temple complex that the Chandelas constructed. The erotic stone carvings here have come to symbolize the important role of love and prana energy in Hindu thought. British archaeologists excavated these intricate stone carvings during colonial times, when they scandalized post-Victorian English sensibilities. We have time for lunch before transferring to the airport for our 40-minute flight to Varanasi, the holiest of Hindu cities. Known as Benares during British times, Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world, with a written history dating back more than 4,000 years. It has an intense, almost palpable atmosphere of spiritual devotion, a feeling of an unending religious festival. Hundreds of temples propitiate the thousands of deities in the Hindu pantheon. Pilgrims from every part of this vast nation crowd the narrow streets and the riverside ghats.

    As the day comes to a close, we'll travel to the bathing ghats located alongside the sacred River Ganges. People flock in large numbers every day to bathe and worship in the temples built beside the riverbank. Feel the timelessness of Varanasi as the sun sets and as the temple priests perform aarti, the sacred light ceremony, on the banks of Mother Ganga. The aarti performance is best viewed while having a boat ride on the river. We can photograph riverside temples and bathing ghats in a rich, golden light. Photography of the cremation ghats, however, is not permitted.

    After the puja ceremony is completed, dinner will be on your own this evening.

  • At sunrise, when the temples are bathed in soft light, we board our small boat for a cruise on the Ganges. From our boat we are witness to the everyday life in the holiest of cities, as the people arrive at the ghats at dawn to take a ritual dip, perform yoga asanas, wash clothes and offer flowers and incense to the river. We'll see devotees performing their daily religious rites. At stone steps on the river's edge, we join our hosts in a pilgrimage: for them, the heart of their faith, for us, a superlative cultural experience. We then continue with a walk through Varanasi's narrow lanes before returning to our hotel for breakfast.

    After breakfast, we drive to the nearby ancient Buddhist learning center of Sarnath. Here, Gautama Buddha preached his first sermon to his disciples, as portrayed in Bernardo Bertolucci's film Little-Buddha. We then visit the Sarnath Museum, (except on Fridays, when the museum is closed) which houses some of the great treasures of Indian Buddhist art, including Ashoka's Lion Capital—the National Emblem of India—and the beautiful Teaching Buddha, among the most beautiful sculptures in the world. We can explore and photograph excavated Buddhist stupas and pillars unearthed during the British archaeological explorations in 1836. We also have the opportunity to visit a silk-weaving workshop.

    This evening, we'll enjoy a Farewell Dinner at our hotel.

  • This morning we have the chance to begin the day with a relaxing yoga and meditation class before breakfast at our hotel. Learn basic yoga exercises and breathing techniques from a local expert.

    After lunch on your own, you will be transferred to the airport to board a flight to Delhi, where you'll stay tonight. Or, if you’re continuing on the post-trip extension to Kathmandu, Nepal, you will fly to Kathmandu instead.

    Enjoy an included dinner at your hotel this evening.

  • If you're continuing on a post-trip extension to The South of India: Kerala & Cochin, board your flight this morning.

    Otherwise, transfer to the airport very early this morning for your return flight to the U.S.

  • POST-TRIP EXTENSION:
    Kathmandu, Nepal

    5 nights from only $1395

    Experience the diversity and the magic of Nepal amid an unforgettable world of profound and ageless beauty. At the ancient crossroads of Asia, an enchanting kingdom gilded in Hindu and Buddhist culture nestles beneath the rugged peaks of eight of the world’s ten highest mountains. In Kathmandu, the capital, pilgrims make their way to local shrines as merchants sell their brightly colored and fragrant wares. Artisans gifted in their ancient techniques display woven fabrics and ceramic bowls made for temple offerings. In Bhaktapur, prayer flags adorn lively temples that reveal colorful ancient scrolls and exquisite carvings, offering intimate views of Nepali life. And mighty Everest climbs ever higher in the background, stretching eternally toward heaven through a white halo of clouds.

    View Extension Itinerary
  • POST-TRIP EXTENSION:
    The South of India: Kerala & Cochin

    5 nights from only $1595

    Some 1,300 miles south of Delhi lies a paradise of sandalwood-scented beaches, stunning southern Indian architecture, and multicultural European ports. Add to that an enviable reputation as India's most advanced, peaceful, literate, and ecologically minded state. Discover the best of it by land, and by cruising its idyllic backwaters aboard a traditional houseboat.

    View Extension Itinerary
  • 8 nights from only $2695

    Few travelers have ever heard of Bhutan—much less passed through its majestic (but remote) Himalayan borders. The Buddhist kingdom cautiously controls tourism to preserve its culture and protect its legacy as one of the world’s ten biodiversity hotspots. Here is a unique opportunity to experience a deeply spiritual world of elaborate temple-fortresses, ancient customs, and mind-boggling scenery—at a price as rare as Bhutan itself.

    View Extension Itinerary
Delhi Varanasi Expand All
  • You depart today on your overnight flight from the U.S. to Delhi, India.

  • Explore the many sites of Delhi

    You'll arrive in Delhi today, where your Trip Leader will meet you at the airport and escort you to your hotel.

  • After breakfast, gather with your fellow travelers for a briefing by your Trip Leader.

    Explore Delhi on a rickshaw ride

    We start our discoveries this afternoon in Delhi by visiting Old Delhi. Even when Bombay and Madras were mere trading posts and Calcutta a village of mud huts, Delhi had been the seat of an empire for 500 years. Through the centuries, eight cities have been built on this site, by Hindu, Mughal and British rulers—with each adding their own flavor.

    In the old part of Delhi, we visit Raj Ghat, a beautifully serene monument. This is where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated, and we will see an impressive shrine to India's best-known statesman. Next, after visiting the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, we take a short ride by rickshaw through the crowded lanes of the Chandni Chowk bazaar. Tonight, enjoy a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

  • After breakfast, we head out to see the highlights of New Delhi as we continue to explore India.

    The British laid out the broad, tree-lined avenues and neat street grid of New Delhi (in contrast to the narrow alleyways of the old part of the city). We'll begin our explorations by visiting Qutab Minar, a spectacular example of Indo-Islamic architecture topped by a 234-foot-high tower. Begun in the twelfth century, this is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and the symbol of New Delhi.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, we'll continue our tour of the former "Imperial City" which continues to serve as the center of government for the world's largest democracy. We'll see the buildings of India's Parliament and (from the outside) the residence of India's President, a palatial building called Rashtrapati Bhavan. Nearby we see the India Gate, where a popular park surrounds a memorial to Indian soldiers who served Great Britain in World War I and the 19th-century war in Afghanistan.

    You'll have the latter part of the afternoon at leisure. This evening, dinner is on your own.

  • After breakfast, we'll fly to Jaipur, called the “Pink City” for the rosy hue of its sandstone buildings. Upon arrival, we'll eat lunch at a local restaurant before checking into our hotel and enjoying a walking tour of Jaipur's walled Old City. Tonight we'll gather for dinner at a local restaurant.

  • Explore 16th century Amber Fort in India

    An optional hot air balloon ride may be offered this morning (weather permitting). Rise early to enjoy a bird's-eye view of Jaipur and its surroundings. Float high above Jai Mahal Lake and the countryside, going where the wind takes you. Don't be surprised if you attract attention from the people below along the way!

    Later, we'll begin today's discoveries with a view of the exterior of Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds). This is actually not a palace, but rather a façade of 956 delicate, honeycombed sandstone windows used by the ladies of the palace to watch the outside world without being seen.

    Next, we'll explore Jaipur's Amber (pronounced "am-er," with a silent "b") Fort-Palace. The Fort is a stunning and well-preserved 16th-century structure, built on four levels. Among its many splendors is the Sheesh Mahal, a small room whose ceiling, covered with tiny mirrors, looks like a sky filled with brilliant stars. Here, in Rajput times, a dancing girl held candles during a dance of love for her Maharaja. We make our way back down the hill and return to Jaipur.

    After lunch on your own, your afternoon is free. Then we are the guests of an Indian family for a Home-Hosted Dinner.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:
    Explore the Palace Museum and other sites of Jaipur

    After breakfast, we proceed to Pushkar, about a five-hour drive. During much of the year, Pushkar is a quiet town sacred to Hindus. The town surrounds Pushkar Lake, which is studded with bathing ghats for the pilgrims who come here to bathe in its healing waters. However, with the beginning of the Pushkar fair it turns into a multicolored and teeming place of camel races, horse dealing, and traditional festivities. Entertainment during this bustling festival includes various sports: camel races, horse races, and tug-of-war competitions. The scheduling of these events is unpredictable, and much of the excitement and fun of our two days here will be taking advantage of opportunities as we come across them.

    Lunch is at our camp as we arrive in Pushkar. This afternoon we'll visit the Mela Ground, located at the heart of this fascinating fair. Here we will witness many of the fair's traders along with their animals.

    We have dinner at our camp this evening. First, though, we'll enjoy the excitement and gaiety of Rajasthani folk dancing and singing.

  • After breakfast in camp today, we explore Pushkar. Sitting in a valley, the town boasts five major temples, and a rich religious history. We'll visit the Brahma Temple (said to be the only temple to this deity), and the lake itself. The fair swells the local population with camel traders, herders, and spectators. At its peak most of Rajasthan's culture is represented.

    This afternoon, after enjoying lunch at our camp, we'll take in more of the fair, which is a predominantly rural gathering, as we mingle with local people and share in their festive spirit. The fair includes a large marketplace, where you will find such items as colorful costumes, ornaments, and embroidered coverings.

    Before dinner at camp this evening, we'll enjoy another show of traditional dancing.

  • After breakfast we drive to Jaipur and check into our hotel. We'll have time for lunch before we head to the Jantar Mantar, a remarkable astronomical and astrological observatory built in the 18th century. The giant sundials here are still accurate to two-tenths of a second! Then we go on to the City Palace Museum, filled with an array of textiles, arms, carpets, paintings and manuscripts. You'll complete your tour with a visit to a fabric block-printing center to learn more about the textiles that are so representative of this area.

    We have dinner at a local restaurant this evening.

  • After breakfast, we leave Jaipur and drive through the rural countryside and into the low Vindhya mountain range. The drive is about five hours in length along bumpy roads.

    Our destination is Ranthambore National Park. Located near the town of Sawai Madhopur, the park is one of the eleven sites chosen for Project Tiger, India's national tiger conservation program, the largest such effort in the world. The park comprises more than a hundred square miles of deciduous forest and several large lakes, and until 1970 it was a hunting preserve of the Maharajas. We'll arrive at the hotel in time for lunch. Please note: As Ranthambore National Park is closed in August and September, we will visit the Sawai Mansingh Animal Sanctuary instead during those months.

    In the afternoon, you can join an optional tour to the Ranthambore Fort, a spectacular fortress built more than 1,000 years ago on a rocky outcrop with stunning views. Today it sits in the middle of the Ranthambore sanctuary. You'll ride in an open 4x4 vehicle (known locally as a canter), and then hike to the fort, a huge structure with a fascinating history and fine craftsmanship in its interiors. 

    Dinner is included at our hotel this evening, along with a presentation on the local wildlife we'll see tomorrow.

  • In the early morning, when nocturnal animals may still be active, we head out for game-viewing before breakfast. Once again, our mode of transportation is a canter, a safari truck. We may see all the great Indian species: sambar, nilgai, the shy chinkara and chital, and the always cunning Langur monkey.

    We return to our hotel for breakfast and the rest of the morning at leisure. Following an included lunch in the hotel, we regroup for a second safari expedition. Though it is rare, we may see the Royal Bengal tiger, usually sleeping by day in the tall grass. A recent census showed 26 tigers in the reserve. We also see lakes that hold crocodiles, and a wide variety of water birds in season. More than 450 bird species frequent this area, from crested serpent eagles to painted storks.

    Dinner is included at our hotel this evening.

  • After breakfast, we'll stroll into a local village to visit with the students at a primary school (when in session) that O.A.T. proudly supports through donations from Grand Circle Foundation.

    We'll continue our exploration of the village, meeting local people and seeing their houses and way of life. We'll be the guests of one family for a Home-Hosted Visit. Then we visit a cooperative where women are trained to make handcrafts and we'll learn about this enterprise from one of the women involved, with the opportunity to purchase its products.

    After lunch at the cooperative, we'll drive through the rural countryside to Bharatpur. The drive is about 8-9 hours in length along bumpy roads, but we'll break it up with a stop along the way.

    Upon arrival in Bharatpur, we'll check into our hotel, where we'll dine together.

  • This morning, we experience the vast rural countryside of India as we ride toward Agra. En route, our Trip Leader entertains us with a discussion of the history of the Mughals, the dynasty that built the Taj Mahal. We arrive in Agra in time for lunch at our hotel.

    Our afternoon is at leisure to explore. Perhaps you'll discover Agra's stone carvings, which resemble the inlay work on the Taj itself. Or perhaps you'll visit one of the city's parks or temples; ask your Trip Leader for suggestions.

    Dinner will be on your own this evening.

  • Today we rise early to view a sight unlike any other in the entire world: early morning at the Taj Mahal. Please note: If this day falls on a Friday, we visit the Taj Mahal on the evening of Day 13 instead.

    This grand edifice, built by Shah Jahan from 1631 to 1653 to enshrine the remains of his Queen Mumtaz Mahal, took 20,000 workers to build. We walk into the inner chambers of this renowned “Monument to Love,” and seek out several vantage points to see the magnificent play of light. The semi translucent white marble is inlaid with thousands of semi-precious stones in beautiful patterns and the building has four identical facades, a perfect exercise in symmetry. It’s truly a wonder of the world!

    Later in the morning, we visit the sprawling Agra Fort on the bank of the Yamuna River. This immense fort and palace were the seat of power for four generations of Mughal emperors; they ruled all of northern India from the early 16th century until the consolidation by British colonial rule in the early 1800s. Agra Fort’s architecture is an almost perfect fusion between military might and lavish beauty.

    We return to our hotel to enjoy the afternoon at leisure, then gather for an included dinner this evening.

  • To enjoy and make the most of this very long, overland, travel day, you'll need to approach it with curiosity, an adventurous spirit, and a healthy sense of humor.

    We begin our journey early this morning, as we board a train for an approximately two-hour ride to Jhansi, a center of Bundela civilization. Upon arriving at the railway station in Jhansi, we will transfer to our coach and continue overland for a half-hour drive to Orcha. After lunch we continue overland via coach on the long (four-and-a-half-hour drive) and bumpy road to Khajuraho.

    Although remote and very quiet today, in the tenth century Khajuraho was the center of the thriving civilization of the Chandelas. The magnificent group of temples (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) was built between the ninth and tenth centuries by the Chandela Dynasty, which dominated Central India at the time.

    We'll check in, and enjoy dinner at our hotel in the evening.

  • After breakfast at our hotel, we visit the temple complex that the Chandelas constructed. The erotic stone carvings here have come to symbolize the important role of love and prana energy in Hindu thought. British archaeologists excavated these intricate stone carvings during colonial times, when they scandalized post-Victorian English sensibilities.

    We have time for lunch before transferring to the airport for our 40-minute flight to Varanasi, the holiest of Hindu cities. Known as Benares during British times, Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world, with a written history dating back more than 4,000 years. It has an intense, almost palpable atmosphere of spiritual devotion, a feeling of an unending religious festival. Hundreds of temples propitiate the thousands of deities in the Hindu pantheon. Pilgrims from every part of this vast nation crowd the narrow streets and the riverside ghats.

    As the day comes to a close, we'll travel to the bathing ghats located alongside the sacred River Ganges. People flock in large numbers every day to bathe and worship in the temples built beside the riverbank. Feel the timelessness of Varanasi as the sun sets and as the temple priests perform aarti, the sacred light ceremony, on the banks of Mother Ganga. The aarti performance is best viewed while having a boat ride on the river. We can photograph riverside temples and bathing ghats; however, photography of the cremation ghats is not permitted.

    After the puja ceremony and aarti performance are completed, dinner will be on your own this evening.

  • At sunrise, when the temples are bathed in soft light, we board our small boat for a cruise on the Ganges. From our boat we are witness to the everyday life in the holiest of cities, as the people arrive at the ghats at dawn to take a ritual dip, perform yoga asanas, wash clothes and offer flowers and incense to the river. We'll see devotees performing their daily religious rites. At stone steps on the river's edge, we join our hosts in a pilgrimage: for them, the heart of their faith, for us, a superlative cultural experience. We then continue with a walk through Varanasi's narrow lanes before returning to our hotel for breakfast.

    After breakfast, we drive to the nearby ancient Buddhist learning center of Sarnath. Here, Gautama Buddha preached his first sermon to his disciples, as portrayed in Bernardo Bertolucci's film Little-Buddha. We then visit the Sarnath Museum, (except on Fridays, when the museum is closed) which houses some of the great treasures of Indian Buddhist art, including Ashoka's Lion Capital—the National Emblem of India—and the beautiful Teaching Buddha, among the most beautiful sculptures in the world. We can explore and photograph excavated Buddhist stupas and pillars unearthed during the British archaeological explorations in 1836. We also have the opportunity to visit a silk-weaving workshop.

    This evening, we'll enjoy a Farewell Dinner at our hotel.

  • This morning we have the chance to begin the day with a relaxing yoga and meditation class before breakfast at our hotel. Learn basic yoga exercises and breathing techniques from a local expert.

    After lunch on your own, you will be transferred to the airport to board a flight to Delhi, where you'll stay tonight. Or, if you’re continuing on the post-trip extension to Kathmandu, Nepal, you will fly to Kathmandu instead.

    Enjoy an included dinner at your hotel this evening.

  • If you're continuing on a post-trip extension to The South of India: Kerala & Cochin, board your flight this morning.

    Otherwise, transfer to the airport very early this morning for your return flight to the U.S.

  • POST-TRIP EXTENSION:
    Kathmandu, Nepal

    5 nights from only $1395

    Experience the diversity and the magic of Nepal amid an unforgettable world of profound and ageless beauty. At the ancient crossroads of Asia, an enchanting kingdom gilded in Hindu and Buddhist culture nestles beneath the rugged peaks of eight of the world’s ten highest mountains. In Kathmandu, the capital, pilgrims make their way to local shrines as merchants sell their brightly colored and fragrant wares. Artisans gifted in their ancient techniques display woven fabrics and ceramic bowls made for temple offerings. In Bhaktapur, prayer flags adorn lively temples that reveal colorful ancient scrolls and exquisite carvings, offering intimate views of Nepali life. And mighty Everest climbs ever higher in the background, stretching eternally toward heaven through a white halo of clouds.

    View Extension Itinerary
  • POST-TRIP EXTENSION:
    The South of India: Kerala & Cochin

    5 nights from only $1595

    Some 1,300 miles south of Delhi lies a paradise of sandalwood-scented beaches, stunning southern Indian architecture, and multicultural European ports. Add to that an enviable reputation as India's most advanced, peaceful, literate, and ecologically minded state. Discover the best of it by land, and by cruising its idyllic backwaters aboard a traditional houseboat.

    View Extension Itinerary

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